Considering the writing and perfoming talents involved here, this should have been a fascinating action-adventure film. Unfortunately what sprang from Kulik's inept direction is a confused, overlong, watered-down mess that most of the creative participants disowned. In Mexico in 1912,
American pilot Mitchum smuggles guns from Texas to counterrevolutionary captain Wolff, who is battling General Huerta (Lom) and his underling, Pancho Villa (Brynner). Mitchum's plane is damaged on one trip, and he waits in a Mexican village for it to be repaired. During his wait, Mitchum witnesses
a vicious attack by Wolff and his men on the village, which is suspected to be sympathetic to Brynner and the revolution. Wolff's troops are defeated by Brynner's loyal and sadistic aide, Bronson, who saves ammunition by lining up three prisoners, one behind the other, and shooting them all
through the heart with only one bullet. When the loyalists learn that Mitchum has been running guns for the opposition, he is arrested and sentenced to be executed. Before facing a firing squad, however, the American pilot is given a chance to save himself if he agrees to fly for the revolution.
He does, and his first assignment is to bomb government troops with home-made hand grenades while Brynner and his men attack a train and a nearby town. Meanwhile, the evil Lom is embroiled in a power struggle with Brynner and sends Brynner on an impossible mission that should ensure his death.
Much to Lom's anger and surprise, Brynner succeeds brilliantly with aerial support from Mitchum, who goes so far as to crash his airplane into the barbed wire that blocks Brynner's men. Still desperate to be rid of Brynner, Lom has him arrested for disobeying his orders. Mitchum manages to escape
and make his way back to Texas. When Brynner learns that Lom has assassinated the president, Knox, and set himself up as dictator, he also escapes and traces Mitchum to Texas where he convinces the American to rejoin the revolution. Sam Packinpah wrote the original script in 1959 and long hoped to
make VILLA RIDES himself, but he was forced to sell the property outright during his unofficial blacklisting in Hollywood after causing trouble with producers over MAJOR DUNDEE and being fired from directing THE CINCINNATI KID. The star, Yul Brynner, decided Peckinpah didn't know anything about
Mexico and demanded the script be rewritten. This request seems ridiculous since Peckinpah had spent many years in Mexico and was married to a Mexican woman, and when one considers the vivid, detailed portrayals of Mexico and its variety of people in Peckinpah's MAJOR DUNDEE, THE WILD BUNCH, and
BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. The rewrite job was given to Robert Towne, future writer of THE LAST DETAIL, CHINATOWN, and SHAMPOO, who later described the film as "a textbook on How Not to Make a Movie" in the book The Craft of the Screenwriter. Peckinpah concurred, calling it "bloody
awful" in a 1969 Take One interview. He was outraged at the historical inaccuracies and thought Brynner hopelessly miscast as Pancho Villa. He was right. The actor demonstrates none of the passion, volatility, or charisma necessary for a truly interesting portrayal. It falls on Bronson, who turns
in a surprisingly good performance, to inject some life into the goings-on. Mitchum does fine doing what he does best, exuding a "what the hell" nonchalance throughout the proceedings. Kulik's disinterested direction never gets a grasp on the plot, milieu, or characters and only seems to
concentrate on the violence. Another sad case of what could have been if the cards had come up differently.
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: R
- Review: Considering the writing and perfoming talents involved here, this should have been a fascinating action-adventure film. Unfortunately what sprang from Kulik's inept direction is a confused, overlong, watered-down mess that most of the creative participants… (more)